Sunday’s chaotic, incident filled Japanese Grand Prix saw Max Verstappen crowned Formula One world champion for a second time.
The race, delayed by rain, was restarted with Verstappen eventually winding up the victor. Much of the Formula One world believed the rain-shortened event would result in half points, forcing Verstappen to delay championship celebrations. However, a technicality in the rules meant full points were on offer in Suzuka.
Confusion still reigned though as Charles Leclerc finished second on track. That result would have kept the Monegasque in title contention, however a five second time penalty handed down to Leclerc after the race bumped him down to third.
As Formula One did its maths, Verstappen was left confused. “Have I or not?” the dutchman asked after being given conflicting information in interviews.
Verstappen was indeed world champion, though perhaps not in the way he might have wanted. His 2021 world championship celebrations were arguably overshadowed by controversial FIA decisions surrounding the safety car. This time around there was little controversy, only confusion, yet the outcome seemed much the same. The F1 world was left head scratching and Verstappen’s championship celebrations were left somewhat dulled.
Despite muted celebrations, or maybe exactly because of them, we ought to consider the scale of Max’s achievement. He now holds two world titles and 32 race wins, identical to Fernando Alonso, with the Spaniard widely recognised as one of the most gifted drivers in history.
Verstappen is the youngest racer in F1 history, the youngest points scorer, the youngest podium sitter, the youngest race winner and so on. If Verstappen retired at the end of this season, he would be remembered amongst the greatest drivers of all-time.
Verstappen is far from finished though; he is in fact just 25 years old- more than a decade younger than Sir Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull Racing have been open about committing their long-term future to Verstappen, a driver they believe can deliver them more success. Indeed, it seems likely that Verstappen will stick around in F1 for a decade or longer.
That thought should worry Red Bull’s F1 competition. Verstappen has been in a league of his own this year, driving outstandingly well. 12 race wins out of a possible 18 along with Verstappen’s commanding lead against Sergio Perez, his Red Bull teammate, point to a driver who is finding new levels of performance. Verstappen and Red Bull look like a powerful combination for years to come.
But the tides of Formula One can turn quickly. This was demonstrated aptly when the FIA confirmed last week that Red Bull had breached F1’s cost cap. The overspend, now known to be less than 5%, has been disputed by Red Bull. However, the internet has been awash with rumours- online pundits claiming the overspend was around $1 million, mainly spent on additional catering costs. This has sparked a wave of memes online about what luxury food Red Bull might have on offer!
At the serious end of this issue though, some have gone as far as to say Verstappen should be striped of his world title whilst Red Bull say they have done nothing wrong.
That outcome still hangs in the balance, though it seems a poignant reminds of how quickly the world’s fastest sport can change.
Whilst Red Bull look dominant now, that certainly is not assured in the future. Look back only two years and the dominance of Mercedes and Hamilton looked unbreakable; the outfit are winless in 2022.
Changing regulations shake up the order of F1’s teams. The next set of changes, the 2026 engine redesign, might knock Red Bull off their pedestal. Equally, resurgent Ferrari, Mercedes or McLaren teams could improve to challenge Red Bull more frequently.
Red Bull will hope that does not happen. But, F1 has always been a sport of unknowns. Maybe Red Bull will lose their performance edge, Verstappen might lose his fantastic form, who can say?
Only time will tell.
Featured Image: Terence Faircloth via Flickr